A Guide to OTC Pain Relievers

OTC Pain RelieversOver-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers can be very effective, and because you do not need a prescription from your physician to buy them, they are both easily accessible and convenient. There are two main types of OTC painkillers: acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs include aspirin (Anacin® and Bayer®), ibuprofen (Advil® and Motrin®), and naproxen (Aleve®). Some products contain both acetaminophen and aspirin (Excedrin®). Additionally, many of these products are also available in generic versions, which contain the same active ingredients.

Acetaminophen has been used for decades to relieve pain and reduce fever. Even so, experts are still unclear as to exactly how it works. Some theories suggest that the drug may act centrally by inhibiting the flow of pain signals from the brain. On the other hand, NSAIDs work locally by blocking the production of pain-, inflammation-, and fever-causing substances (prostaglandins) at the actual site of the tissue damage (prostaglandins can cause these symptoms by irritating sensitive nerve endings). While NSAIDs can alleviate both pain and inflammation, analgesics like acetaminophen are effective for pain relief only, and have no effect on inflammation.

OTC pain relievers can be helpful for treating many common types of pain, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches and stiffness
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Back pain
  • Toothaches
  • Arthritis
  • Earaches
  • Post-surgical pain
  • Discomfort associated with a cold, flu, sinusitis, strep throat, or sore throat

Before taking any OTC medication, it is important to carefully read the directions on the drug facts label to learn how much you should take and how often you should take it. Never assume that increasing the recommended dosage will make the medicine work faster or better – even small overdoses of OTC drugs can be dangerous. If you have any questions, call a doctor or pharmacist. Also, be sure to keep a running list of the medications you are using at any given time, and take this record with you to your doctor appointments.

In many cases, an OTC medication is all that is needed to relieve minor aches or reduce fever. However, if you find that an OTC drug doesn’t help, you should consult a physician, because it may be a sign you have a more serious problem or need a prescription medicine.

If you have questions about an OTC medication that you’re currently taking or planning to take, you can speak with a doctor at South Tampa Immediate Care. No appointments are necessary at our walk-in clinic, where you will be seen by a doctor who is experienced in diagnosing and treating a variety of common health conditions.